Overview:  In the second installment of the Hobbit trilogy, Bilbo, Gandalf the Grey, and their merry band of dwarves continue to face endless obstacles as they journey to reclaim their home, the most daunting of which is a gold digging dragon with some serious anger issues. 2013, Warner Bros. Pictures, rated PG-13, 161 minutes.

Living in the Shadows:  Sometimes, I wonder if the reaction to the Hobbit trilogy would be different if it had been released prior to the original Lord of the Rings trilogy.  As I watch these Hobbit films, I can’t help but make mental comparisons along the way, which, although impossible to avoid, are ultimately unfair to Bilbo and gang.  But alas, this is the choice Peter Jackson has made, and compare I will.  Even when Lord of the Rings is executing high stakes battle sequences, it maintains the emotional depth and character arcs that help elevate it above your average run of the mill epic fantasy.

Although Desolation of Smaug moves at a quicker pace than its predecessor,  the increase in action results in an equal ramp up of the already overused level of CGI, saturating scenes to the point where they resemble a video game rather than a movie.  The sense of detachment created by this abundance of effects as well as the lack of connection with the characters create a distance between the viewer and the story, removing all emotional investment and leaving behind a journey where each obstacle feels more like leveling up, which is fun, but not impactful in any way.

Bilbo the Reliever:  Indisputably, the best part of this franchise is Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins.  He brings a breath of fresh air to this film with every minute detail, from his quirky expressions to his lively mannerisms; he steals the screen every step of the way.  Bilbo embodies the courageous, kindhearted personalities we’ve been taught to associate with Hobbits.  Whether he’s fumbling around to escape after he forgets to create an escape for himself while helping his companions, or exchanging witty, stalling banter with a dragon, Freeman has quickly (well, with these running times maybe not so quickly) become by favorite Hobbit.

Smaug the Redeemer:  Despite the many ways this film falls short of expectations, one aspect does indeed succeed, and that is the spectacular presentation of Smaug the dragon.  Smaug is an astounding accomplishment in the world of cinematic dragons, and he’s a glorious sight to behold, with a sassy, vengeful personality to boot.  He dominates the third act of the film, leaving viewers in awe when he emerges from molten gold in a fury, and in that moment we forget we’ve been staring at the screen for three hours and almost wish it wouldn’t end.  

Grade: C+